19 Apr 2024

Man who torched John Key’s electorate office admits $650k arson of Huntly Railway Building

9:56 pm on 19 April 2024

By Belinda Feek, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

Arsonist Daniel Vale walks into the Hamilton District Court where he admitted setting fire to the Huntly Railway Building which was built in 1939.

Arsonist Daniel Vale walks into the Hamilton District Court where he admitted setting fire to the Huntly Railway Building which was built in 1939. Photo: Belinda Feek / Open Justice

A man jailed for throwing a Molotov cocktail at former prime minister John Key's electorate office and setting fire to rugby club rooms, has now admitted torching the historical Huntly Railway Building.

The arson caused about $650,000 worth of damage, according to court documents.

CCTV captured Daniel Vale travelling through Huntly at various sites between 9.30pm and 10.30pm on 31 May last year.

He then got to Glasgow St and entered the railway building through temporary fencing.

About 10.15pm he set it alight and fled.

A large number of fire appliances battled the blaze.

Before the 31 May fire, the Waikato District Council moved the building onto the Glasgow St site in preparation for restoration, a project dubbed "years in the making".

Vale appeared in the Hamilton District Court on Friday where he pleaded guilty to arson.

He was convicted by Judge Stephen Clark and through counsel, Gerard Walsh, successfully applied for bail.

He was remanded to reappear for sentencing in July.

The Waikato District Council-owned railway building was listed as historically significant.

Before the fire, it had been moved to the council-owned land for a restoration project to turn it into a museum.

Vale was jailed in 2010 after admitting throwing a Molotov cocktail into Key's office in September 2009.

He also admitted lighting a fire in the Helensville Rugby Club a month before.

All up, he caused around $100,000 in damage.

Meanwhile, the Waikato District Council's costs associated with the building have ballooned due to delays in the insurance claiming process.

Last month, councillors approved $222,000 to cover uninsured costs of the project but had already claimed $344.081 in costs.

The historic building had been sitting at Lake Puketirini since 2008. To transport the building to the Raahui Pookeka Huntly railway station - now an important stop for the Te Huia commuter train service from Waikato to Auckland - it was cut in half and brought to the tracks by truck, one piece at a time.

At the time of the fire, the arson was described as a "kick in the guts" by Huntly Ward councillor David Whyte.

Waikato District Mayor Jacqui Church said the incident was "horrible".

"It's not just a building, it's a piece of history," Church said in June.

Anthony Averill, Waikato District Council's deputy general manager of service delivery, previously said the extra funds were needed to cover "cost escalations", delays while seeking consents from KiwiRail, and "some uninsured aspects related to the fire such as holding costs for the builders".

Confirmation of funding meant the restoration project could continue.

- This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald